Settling in at The Buzz Mill on East Riverside Drive, Latasha Lee is all smiles. With a grin, the native East Austinite (by way of Corpus Christi) recollects her childhood years spent in this part of town, wandering the neighborhood and being “rebellious.” As a child, Latasha performed at small events around the city with her sister and cousin. She was unsure if she could successfully pursue a career in music, but she did know it’s exactly what she wanted to do.
Today, as a confident and talented grownup, Latasha blends her hip-hop style with a Motown sensibility. It took some trial and error to find her unique style; Latasha tried her hand at modern R&B but shortly found she was uncomfortable and decided to do what felt most natural. The songstress with an Amy Winehouse-like voice made the switch to a vintage soul sound with her current project, Latasha Lee & The BlackTies.
Along with Salih Williams, a seminal part of Texas rap music, Latasha is bringing some real soul to the mix, just like old times. Latasha Lee & The BlackTies are making the effort to “bring the bands back” and reintroduce the concept that thrived decades ago.
Speaking with both Latasha and Salih at the Buzzmill’s log cabin-like surroundings, it was as if I was grabbing coffee with old friends. Latasha’s carefree demeanor allowed us to skip the small talk and immediately connect on our favorite places to shop. Salih started off a little more reserved but as we all began to chat, his deep, hearty laugh became infectious.
Salih and Latasha met when she was only 14 years old, but at the time they were seemingly on different paths.
“When we met, I was already signed to Universal,” Salih said. “I didn’t want to push her, as soon as I met her, drag her into this business. I know how it is; I’ve been up and down with it all.”
Salih not only plays guitar in the band but he produces and writes the band’s music. His producer resume consists of multiple hits such as Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin’,” “Sittin’ Sideways” by Paul Wall and other rap hits from Houston’s golden age. But before etching himself into Houston hip hop history, Salih grew up doing the “live thing” as a musician. He played keyboards in his family’s band when they first moved to Austin and he recalls playing all over Sixth Street. Salih credits that scene as the reason why he kept to making music.
As for Latasha, she didn’t waste a minute. Her sister, an avid fan of reality television, pushed her to audition for FOX’s hit show, X Factor. Latasha didn’t think she would make it through any round, considering she had auditioned for Americal Idol twice and never made it through the first interview. But her talent was finally noticed. She was selected as one of the top 50 contestants and attended boot camp to compete for a spot in the finals. Latasha shared that she was astonished each round that she progressed in the competition. Unfortunately, her time on the show came to an end when she forgot the words to a song.
“Overall, it was a great experience,” Latasha said. “Everything that was supposed to happen happened.”
Latasha remembers first starting out with Salih and feeling like she wasn’t living up to her full potential, artistically. She said that they decided she would do modern R&B because it was current, but as she shared, “I got a little street in me and stuff,” she knew this wasn’t her forte.
“I knew I wanted to do soul music because it felt more natural to sing it” Latasha said. “I didn’t want to be 50 or 60 singing [modern] R&B.”
Soul music came naturally to Latasha after growing up on the classics. Latasha named Gladys Knight and Otis Redding as some of her biggest influences. She believes Winehouse was one of the only artists keeping the sound alive before her death.
When Salih signed Latasha in 2006, his production company Carnival Beats mainly catered to rap artists. But within a few years, Salih realized how saturated the rap game had been getting and decided to bring it back to live music. His history and experience performing with those kinds of bands made him realize it was something that was missing in current R&B. Enter The BlackTies.
For Salih and Latasha, the idea of being a part of a major label isn’t something that they are exactly looking for. So far, they have been successful in reaching out to people through their own means in order to spread their music. Latasha’s presence on social media is strong and she makes it a point to reach out to everyone who takes the time to reach out to her. Latasha and Salih agreed that they both want to be prepared with lots of material to present if they did get the chance to sign with a major label. They want to keep their sound as original as they possibly can.
With a band by her side, Latasha is making her way into the soul scene here in Austin. The band just performed their first Austin City Limits Festival this year and has received great critiques from all kinds of press including a photo on Rolling Stone‘s website. She also had the opportunity to perform for a Red Bull Sound Select show in September where she opened for Grupo Fantasma. The band also played a Fun Fun Fun Fest Nite during this year’s FFF Fest opening for Lee Fields & The Expressions at Red 7. While her name isn’t in the marquees all over the city just yet, it’s only a matter of time before Latasha Lee and The BlackTies make it big.
* Watch the music video for “Win Her Heart” from Latasha Lee & BlackTies below. See more videos here.